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The Soft Stuff is the Hard Stuff (But it’s the Good Stuff) - Of this series of 10 posts I’ve planned, this is the one tip I’ve been waiting to write up (along with tip # 6, another fixation of mine). I’m incredibly passionate about this topic, so hang on for the diatribe, I mean ride.

  • sharepoint

Underestimate  or under-resource Change Management at your peril.  If that sounds hysterical or intimidating I apologise, but in my view and my experience this is essential for SharePoint success, and  this tip is probably “the one ring to rule them all.”

Now I don’t mean the ITSM or ITIL world of Change  Management – standardization, infrastructure and configuration control, incident management and Change Advisory Boards and all that.  I mean the messy and ‘soft’ human stuff that’s about working with people to get them to stop doing things the “way we’ve always done it” and start doing things differently on SharePoint, adopting new processes, interacting with one another online via other means than email, creating and sharing content in new formats, etc.

Important though the infrastructure and solution architecture are, success (or failure) in enterprise SharePoint deployments always comes down to user adoption (or lack thereof).   Anything’s possible I guess, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so free with the italics and bold face … but I’ve never heard of or read a case study or encountered a real world environment where SharePoint failed literally because of technical issues –backups weren’t enabled, patches and Service Packs weren’t up to date, IT ran out of storage space, there was no Staging server, solutions were deployed into Production without proper testing, etc.  Conversely, I’ve heard many stories and conference presentations first-hand and read many more case studies of implementations that failed because employees simply didn’t understand or could not use SharePoint; or they used it badly on their own, made a mess of it, learned to loathe it and then stopped using it.  I’ve even been on a couple of ‘recovery’ missions in such circumstances.  Heard  any recent anecdotes about the SharePoint deployment that’s an expensive file  server?  Yes, me too…

So I advise never over-emphasize or resource the technology component or IT requirements at the expense of:

    • Business engagement and stakeholder management – before, during and after the project
    • User adoption strategy and tactics – immediately post-launch and ongoing
    • Communications
    • End user training – formal and informal
    • End user support

    Build Your Own SharePoint Field of Dreams and They Will Come…

    This kind of thinking still occurs, and organisations still deploy SharePoint accordingly and are surprised when they don’t come and the field remains empty.  Or sometime ‘they’ do wander out of the corn rows and stumble into SharePoint, it’s true. But left to their own devices, with no real idea of the game they’re supposed to play, too many still end up ultimately “hating” SharePoint.  Them’s strong words and also a real shame because it doesn’t have to be that way.

    Despite the square miles of stuff written on the importance of user adoption and change management strategies and tactics, insufficiency or lack thereof remains a common root cause of failure with SharePoint.  (Welcome to my own square metre contribution.)   So why does this happen?

    • Perhaps because SharePoint is usually owned or delivered by IT and managed by techies, and SharePoint Architects can be a little bit self-important about technical minutiae and indifferent to actual users   Sorry, that’s a bit below the belt; it’s not fair to keep blaming the techies when many business administrators are equally guilty of “build it and they’ll come” magical thinking.
    • Maybe it’s because Change Management programs demand not insignificant resources and effort, for outcomes aren’t usually particularly immediate or tangible (I didn’t say they’re not achievable and measurable though).   Even if you know it’s important, you might find it hard to get appropriate buy-in or budget from management.
    • Sometimes a great Change Management effort during a SharePoint project doesn’t continue and develop far beyond the launch, so it withers on the vine.

    Furthermore, despite the marketing hype you may have encountered, SharePoint is not easy for the average user (particularly if you haven’t paid due attention to any of the success factors described in previous tips in this series).  Nope, not even with the new ribbon.  Without explicit and deliberate Change Management support, SharePoint:

    • Doesn’t make Business Analysts of your information workers overnight, and have them transforming their Excel files into lists and deploying Content Query Web Parts on their Enterprise Wikis for richly informative and interactive content.
    • Won’t turn Project Office staff into black-belt information managers – consider yourself very lucky if they willingly transfer their Risk Registers and Issue Logs into online lists without you asking them, showing them, reminding them of the benefits, and showing them all over again, before doing it for them.
    • Is unlikely to encourage HR or IT or Finance to convert their 50 page procedure documents into FAQ lists, web pages or wiki sites.

    Hard stuff

    Does any of the following sound familiar?

    • People complaining loudly about Inbox-induced madness, who simultaneously seem willfully addicted to email and insist “if it’s not emailed to me, forget it!”
    • Frequent complaints that no-one can find anything
    • Employees who don’t really understand the difference between ‘draft’ and ‘published’ content, and are never sure if something’s final and authorized for use or still a work in progress
    • Staff who have little notion of how to manage document versioning and all just seem to do their own thing with naming and numbering conventions
    • Rampant folder and file construction, duplicated content, and hoarding of files in personal C: drives and mailboxes
    • Managers or content administrators who never seem to action their ‘awaiting your approval’ notifications

    Are you about to deploy SharePoint?

    Or do you already have SharePoint in place?

    Either way, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re struggling with the same issues list!

    These problems are the norm, not the exception, everywhere I’ve worked because people are by and large deeply change-averse creatures – whether lazy, fearful or selfish, or just content with the status quo, unimaginative, sceptical, busy, distracted or prioritizing something else. Persuading us to modify well-entrenched habits no matter how bad is really hard, no matter how good how the technology is and how great the outcome might be.

    Way back in 2008 I won a Step Two Designs Intranet Innovation Award for Team Sites in a Box (see: for details.)   Sure it’s no longer innovative, but nearly 3 years later it’s still a highly relevant design for enterprise online collaboration because it’s largely about the human element, not the application. The fact we now have a completely new and quite different version of SharePoint is largely irrelevant.

    Soft stuff

    ‘Doing SharePoint’ ain’t over when the Project Manager sings and the project team packs up and moves on. In fact, this is the time for concentrated user adoption effort – all those ‘soft’ human things like engagement, communicating the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) and for all of us, and training, support and more training are vital.

    You wouldn’t expect a team to hit the major league without a coach, would you?

    So how do you do it?

    Like almost everything I do with SharePoint, I target my change and user adoption strategies and plans to the needs and culture of the organization I’m working with.

    If you’ve largely adhered to the preceding tips for success with SharePoint, you should find it easier to deliver an effective Change Management strategy and plan. You will know the vision, purpose and scope for SharePoint in your organization, and can readily align your Change strategy with those. You will understand your users and their requirements, and how SharePoint best addresses them.   Your structural and visual design will have been developed with the input of your users, and will help them understand, navigate and enjoy SharePoint.

    If not, don’t despair.  You’re spoiled for choice with many great resources and impressive bloggers in this field. Here are a few of my favourites:

    To finish with some new age speak:  change is a journey, not a destination. Businesses are always mutable, responsive to external and internal forces, and staff are always moving around, in and out of roles and organisations.  Therefore it’s never too late to start your Change Management program and set yourself on the path to success with SharePoint.

    Summing up

    • Change Management is vital not just during a SharePoint project, but ideally before and definitely after
    • Anyone with responsibility for SharePoint – either an implementation or upgrade project or in an ongoing management role – should focus on the people not the technology
    • Think through the approach that will work best in your environment given your opportunities and constraints, document it and then just do it!